We all know that shoplifting is simply illegal, but the lengths to which stores and police go to prosecute and punish shoplifters are far from simple. Prosecutors have multiple charges available that relate to shoplifting, and retailers will often go after shoplifters independently of law enforcement. So a basic case of shoplifting can turn into a complex array of civil and criminal charges and penalties.
Here's what you need to know
If you thought a shoplifting charge might be a simple misdemeanor offense, think again. Many states, Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania among them, have retail theft statutes that make shoplifting a felony offense if the value of the merchandise stolen is over a certain amount or if it's a second or third offense. Additionally, retail theft charges may carry stiffer fines or be more difficult to expunge from your criminal record than a standard theft charge.
Standard shoplifting or theft charges will vary normally depending on the value of the merchandise at issue -- charges and penalties will escalate the more expensive the items involved. But convictions or plea bargains, even to lesser charges, may still include some probation or supervision.
Not So Civil Demands
A recent trend in shoplifting cases is retailers following up with civil demand letters, instructing shoplifters to reimburse the store or pay a civil fine on top of any criminal fine associated with a conviction or plea bargain. These letters may ask for amounts unrelated to the merchandise stolen, demand payment even if merchandise was returned, and often threaten legal action if the accused or convicted shoplifter doesn't pay.
While state laws may allow businesses to recover from a shoplifter in small claims court, the majority of civil demand letters aren't enforceable without a court judgment and cost of litigating most shoplifting claims is more than the cost of the item or even the civil fine, most businesses don't follow through with threats of litigation.
The best person to assess your shoplifting case is an experienced criminal defense attorney.